More mending, unease at the Southern Theater


As CP previously wrote, the relationship between the Southern Theater's board of directors and artists has become quite strained in the past several months. Both groups managed to put their differences aside at the beginning of the performance season, and so far the performances have happened as scheduled.

Now the sides have come together to cooperate on an Artistic Advisory Committee, an initiative put forth by the board and the Southern's President, Patrica Speelman, to bring artists' ideas and input to the theater's administration. The committee will consist of ten volunteers, the Southern programming directors, two board members and Speelman. The goal will be for the committee to immerse Speelman, who is still relatively new to the Twin Cities, in the local arts scene, suggest artists to perform at the Southern, and offer artists a path of communication to the theater's new programming directors, the board, and Speelman. The committee is further charged with addressing several grievances the artistic community had with the board by having board members and artists working side-by-side, presiding over open meetings of the Southern community with board members present, and reach out to the larger Twin Cities artistic community.

Speelman is optimistic that the creation of the committee will unite the board and artists in a way she hasn't seen since arriving at the theater this summer. "We're very hopeful that this will succeed. This opens up possibility for volunteerism for the artists that has not been possible at least in the recent past," Speelman says.

The artists, who had been feeling dismissed by the board, are grateful for the olive branch. "It's a sincere effort to involve the artistic community as much as possible." says Ben Krywosz, artistic director at Nautilus Music Theater.

Still, the performers are clinging to a wait-and-see attitude. "The artists are guardedly optimistic," Krywosz says.

Charles Campbell, co-founder of Skewed Visions performance company and the manager of an e-mail listserv for artists concerned with the Southern, further questions what the committee will accomplish since it simply makes suggestions to the decision makers rather than participate in making key decisions. "We need to empower the artists, and I'm not sure the Southern is going to, and that's my disappointment with the committee," he says. Campbell says he would prefer the theater to be the artist-centered space it was under terminated founding artistic director Jeff Bartlett, but he says he understands that the Southern is simply a different place now.


Despite whatever reservations the Southern's artistic community has with the artistic advisory committee, Speelman says it will help the administration's relationship with the artists, and that will ultimately benefit the theater. "The more people you have involved and working on your behalf, the better your organization is," she says. "I've very hopeful that there will now be a mechanism for shared dialog and brainstorming that will serve the Southern very well."

The complete explanation of the committee:

WHAT 1. The committee shall be a committee of the board and shall be called the Artistic Advisory Committee. 2. It shall be invested with all the rights and responsibilities which are invested in all other board committees.

WHO 1. The Artistic Advisory Committee shall be comprised of 10 volunteers and three staff members. 2. The staff members will be the music, dance, and theatre programming directors. 3. The president will be an ex-officio committee member. 4. The volunteers will include at least two board members, one of whom, preferably, shall be a performing artist. 5. Other volunteer committee members will be performers in the dance, theatre, music, and multi-disciplinary arts communities of the Twin Cities and/or artists who regularly work in those communities (such as designers, directors, choreographers). They will be people who have a broad vision of the arts scene and the Southern's role in it. 6. Committee membership will not affect an individual's performing at or contracting with the Southern. Committee membership will not create a conflict of interest for such individuals.

WHEN 1. The committee will meet quarterly unless there is a need for additional meetings to complete particular special projects. 2. Volunteers will serve two-year terms which are renewable for one additional term of two years. Membership of the first group of individuals will be divided between one- and two-year terms in order to stagger the roll-offs. 3. The committee will self-perpetuate. When there is an opening on the committee, committee members will recommend and vet candidates.

HOW 1. In the short term, the committee will help to get the Southern's new president connected to the Twin Cities arts community. 2. The committee will serve as a resource and a sounding board for the artistic programming directors and the president. 3. The committee will facilitate points of contact and conversations between the Southern and the wider artistic community and between artists within that community. 4. The committee will be "eyes and ears" in seeing work throughout the Twin Cities and recommending artists to the programming directors. 5. The committee will brainstorm with the programming directors as needed. 6. The committee will convene regular, open meetings with the larger artistic community of the Twin Cities to discuss how the Southern is meeting artists' needs. 7. The committee will collect info from artists for the board. 8. The committee may organize and host an annual celebratory event for the Southern's performing artists of the season. 9. The committee may organize and host "artistic speed dating" events through which artists, staff, board, and volunteers can meet and talk with each other. 10. Committee projects and feedback will inform fundraising ideas.

From Patricia Speelman: "New board member Brian Sostek will chair the committee. He and I will meet within the next couple of weeks to discuss how to build the committee."